Press Release

RELEASE: Explaining the Gender Wage Gap

Washington, D.C. — At an event hosted by the White House, the Department of Labor, and the Center for American Progress that examined Boston’s efforts to eliminate the city’s wage gap, the Center for American Progress released a new analysis that explains the controversy surrounding the commonly cited statistic that women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.

In “Explaining the Gender Wage Gap,” author Sarah Jane Glynn clarifies how the wage gap is calculated, why the numbers are not all the same, and what causes are driving the commonly cited 77-cent figure.

The report sheds light on the fact that one of the largest driving factors of the gender wage gap is that men and women, on average, work in different industries and occupations; this accounts for up to 49.3 percent of the wage gap, according to some estimates. Women are much more likely than men to be clustered in just a few occupations, with nearly half of all working women—44.4 percent—employed in just 20 occupations, including secretaries and administrative assistants, registered nurses, and school teachers. Meanwhile, only about one-third—34.8 percent—of men are employed in the top 20 occupations for male workers, including truck drivers, managers, and supervisors.

As the analysis explains, women not only work in different occupations, but they also work fewer hours in the workplace: 35 minutes less per day than men, among full-time working men and women. What accounts for this difference in time? Interestingly, when home and child care work is taken into account, the time gap looks very different. Employed mothers with a child under age 6 spend about 47 more minutes per day caring for and helping household members, compared to employed fathers. Parents of older children also have a caring time gap, though it is smaller—about 22 minutes per day. The data suggest that women’s reduction in work hours can be accounted for when taking into consideration the fact that women provide more unpaid care in the home, at least in homes with children.

“Some critics use the fact that women work fewer hours to fuel their argument that the wage gap exists because of women’s choices,” said Glynn. “But the fact is, in real life, women work the way they do for reasons that, for all but the most privileged, have very little to do with choosing purely between work and family life. Instead, women tend to put in fewer hours, on average, because they are expected to care for their families.”

In fact, there is a cyclical relationship between women’s wages and unpaid care work in the home.  When women earn less to begin with, often due to occupational segregation, it may make economic sense for them to be the ones to scale back to provide family care for children or aging relatives. In turn, that reduction in job hours and job tenure both lowers women’s wages overall and contributes to the cultural notion that women are not as devoted to employment once they have children. Mothers, on average, have lower earnings than women without children, and while some of this gap may be due to working fewer hours, at least some of it persists even when productivity is taken into account. The unfortunate truth is that mothers are perceived as less dedicated employees after having children because many employers think mothers will be distracted by their home lives. At the same time, men tend to receive pay increases after becoming fathers, in part because fathers are assumed to be the breadwinners for their families even though most married men have working partners.

To speak with CAP experts on this topic, please contact Madeline Meth at [email protected] or 202.741.6277.